It is official. I will be teaching another course through the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. Hurray! This course is about exploring world history through pirates stories. We’ll be talking about a whole roster of pirates but also about the nations that created and/or fought with them.
Reading about pirates has been amazingly fun. Every book I read I go back through my notes adding more notes, and it adds another layer of color and depth. I practice telling the stories to my children. I find myself constantly brainstorm questions we can discuss about the material.
My course outline will list off which day we will focus on certain topics, such as “Irish pirates,” “Barbary corsairs” or “What the British civil war meant for the Caribbean” but part of what interests me most are the topics that won’t be confined to one class but will run through the whole course. These will include questions about how violence ends up being justified, what justice means, and what government is. I took political studies at university a long, long time ago, and I expect a lot of the ideas I learned there to pop up in discussions during the class.
There are a lot of interesting issues around pirates. Take for example the question of pardons. What role did the selling of pardons play in the encouragement of piracy? Was it justified hypocrisy on Captain Mainwarring’s part to accept a pardon and then recommend the government cease giving out pardons? Was the danger posed by Blackbeard enough to justify the Governor of Virginia ignoring the pardon given to Blackbeard and having him hunted down anyway? What moral justice is there in pardons if they are issued for paying a suitable amount to the government in question?
Privateers were private individuals licensed to attack another nation’s shipping and defend their own country. At times they served as a sort of navy. Yet they weren’t mercenaries, in the way of being hired. They had to steal their own pay and pay a share of it to the government that licensed them. Licensing privateers meant a government didn’t have to upfront money for as big a navy. On the other hand it also meant they lacked control, and sometimes the goals of the privateers were different than that of the licensing government. The pirates had defended Port Royal, Jamaica, at the invitation of the British but when the British government had incentive to make peace with the Spanish, the pirates didn’t exactly share that incentive.
Religion is going to feature surprisingly often in the pirate stories. There were Jewish, Christian and Muslim pirates. A fair number of pirates had regular religious services on board their ships. Looking at the larger setting of the pirates’ lives, fear of religious persecution led people to flee countries and overthrow kings. Religion played a part too in the making of allies and in creating popular support for wars. But it will be religion as a part of history, within a secular course.
The classes will be half lecture and half discussion. Students will have to do a short presentation about a pirate book as well as a final project. I’ll provide suggested topics for the final projects but students will be free to choose what they want their own projects to look like. Essays are welcome, but so too would a video, a homemade comic book, or any other form of creative exploration of the topic.
Besides the two main projects, I’ll provide suggestions for activities and exercises that students can choose to do or not to do. Students with busy schedules will not be overwhelmed with work, while students who want to are able to really dig into the topic and explore all different aspects of it. There will be some small amounts of required reading between classes, and suggested additional reading as well. I have a copy of the Kingfisher World History Encyclopedia and the DK History: the Definitive Visual Guide and I’ll post which pages of those books connect with the topic on hand, for those who are okay with extra optional reading.